In a big city like Harare you’d think finding a good gym is an easy thing. Turns out it’s harder than I imagined.
Yesterday I spent some time hunting for an ideal place to work out at. Ideal in this case means that the place should be in in the CBD or the Avenues. Secondly there should be standard Olympic barbells, weight plates of varying weights and a squat rack. And obviously shouldn’t be too expensive. That’s a short list, nothing fancy, should be plenty around I thought.
So I did the obvious thing- I went on the internet and searched for “gyms in Harare”. The results were poor, and the few gyms I found there didn’t appear to have any websites. Come on guys, in this day and age?
Which meant I had to resort to primitive ways i.e. going around town searching for gyms and comparing them. Started with the nearest one I knew, over at Fife Avenue shops. Fit the location requirement perfectly since it’s a few minutes’ walk from my place. “$40 a month and $10 for joining,” a short fella who I assumed to be the instructor said. I looked around the pace and wasn’t impressed. The space looked too small and the weights were in disarray. Told him I’d think about it and left.
Next was one I had found on Facebook, along Livingstone Avenue, between Fourth and Fifth streets. “$25 joining fee, $50 per month,” a bored lady at the reception told me. A well-built guy showed me around, he was refreshingly good company and he told me that students pay $35 per month. Looked a good enough place and I thought I might return there.
Later I went to the one in Joina City, called Oxygen Fitness. Located right in the CBD, housed in the city’s fanciest and newest high rise, it looked an expensive place. Fee is $20 for joining then $50 for a month. “What if I’m a student,” I asked remembering a previous encounter. “Oh, if you’re a student, and you’re below 25 you join for $15 and pay $40 every month,” I was told.
I also went to Empire Gym along Leopold Takawira, next to that shop where they sell those fancy Jaguars. A notice proudly proclaimed that they are the biggest fitness chain in the country. Like all things that used to be big in this country the gym has seen better times.
I visited more places, one recommended by a friend in downtown Harare where Harare Street and Albion intersect. Good enough place, $35 per month, no joining fee. Friendliest stuff I’d encountered. But there was a problem. The weight plates were terrible, looked like some kind of rubbery stuff and some barbells were of fixed weights.
It was quite an afternoon, I found one gym at Reylton sports club that looked like sh**, another sh**ty one at Les Brown swimming pool, several others in downtown Harare and, *surprise*, even one at Harare Central Police Station, in the basement, where they charge a dollar per session. Would’ve gone there if the equipment was adequate.
My search got me thinking about business. Reminded me of some ideas I have harboured for some years.
The best ideas, wrote Jason Fried in his short but awesome book, “Rework”, are those that solve the problems you have. This, he said, is called, “scratching your own itch”, and it often turns out to be the best way of getting entrepreneurial ideas. After all there are countless guys like me out there, facing the same problems right? (Well, actually I don’t think there are guys like me, but you get the point).
My experience was frustrating. I really felt that all the gyms I went to could and should do more to make their places more attractive. But of course these issues are not limited to gyms, they apply to most businesses in Zimbabwe.
So I thought I should point out a few things that I think will make Zimbabwean businesses better.
Firstly the staff who deal with people in Zimbabwean companies are generally a lazy, uninterested, bored and, perhaps, unqualified lot. In all the places I went- except the Reylton one where the owner was around- no one tried to encourage me to sign up, either verbally or by offering incentives. I mean when you’re a receptionist in a gym or fitness centre you ought to appear engaged and look happy to be doing your job instead of looking bored and not giving a fuck whether I sign up or not. This is prevalent in almost every sector, except where people are paid on commission. But again what do you expect when people just employ their friends daughters, or aunts or someone from church or an uncle’s baby momma?
Also you need to incentivise, for example if a prospective client complains about the price, why not reduce it by even five dollars. In a business like a gym where the costs are fixed such moves will make you much, much more money in the long run. Perhaps this is down to the owners who do not give their employees room to do such things. Or maybe the employees themselves are not paid enough to care. These guys could really learn a thing or two from the guys who sell phones at the ZimPost mall. Those guys really want you to buy and they often succeed too. And you wonder why those guys drive Mercs while fancy shops go bust.
Thirdly people really need to take their businesses online. Seriously, a basic website costs less than $200. You can get one done for $50 even. A simple two or three page site that lists the services offered, the prices and contact information will go a long way. Imagine the number of potential clients who miss your services because you’re invisible. Facebook and Twitter are fine but nothing beats the good old website for visibility, clarity and credibility. It really boggles my mind why people don’t get this. After investing tens (possibly hundreds) of thousands in a business, what’s another $200 for a website?
Businesses should also get the basics right. I mean it doesn’t matter that you have fancy treadmills and other equipment that no one knows how to use when you don’t have toilets or showers. In one gym they had pretty expensive stuff but no barbells, they simply got the basics wrong. At another they had the equipment you’d expect in a home gym. Come on comrades.
Lastly I think appearances are important in some business sectors. There’s nothing worse than seeing a potbellied fella giving fitness lessons and extolling the virtues of working out. Or overweight, lazy looking receptionists. I mean I have nothing against people’s weights but you can’t be a certain weight and work in a gym, just as you can’t be a certain height and work in the army, for example.
Some fellas need reminders that it’s the 21st Century. Come on makomuredhi. Even Baba Tencen is making money online.